Scientists warn of new Covid variant with high number of mutations
The B.1.1.529 variant was first spotted in Botswana and six cases have been found in South Africa
Scientists have said a new Covid variant that carries an “extremely high number” of mutations may drive further waves of disease by evading the body’s defences.
Only 10 cases in three countries have been confirmed by genomic sequencing, but the variant has sparked serious concern among some researchers because a number of the mutations may help the virus evade immunity.
The B.1.1.529 variant has 32 mutations in the spike protein, the part of the virus that most vaccines use to prime the immune system against Covid. Mutations in the spike protein can affect the virus’s ability to infect cells and spread, but also make it harder for immune cells to attack the pathogen.
The variant was first spotted in Botswana, where three cases have now been sequenced. Six more have been confirmed in South Africa, and one in Hong Kong in a traveller returning from South Africa.
Dr Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, posted details of the new variant on a genome-sharing website, noting that the “incredibly high amount of spike mutations suggest this could be of real concern”. (continues)